Dallas Theater Center’s SWEAT – A Review by Gadi Elkon

Winner of the 2017 Pulitzer Prize, playwright Lynn Nottage’s second Pulitzer, and nominated for the 2017 Tony Award® for Best Play, Sweat takes an unflinching look at life in the industrial working class that has been hailed as “the first theatrical landmark of the Trump era.”

Here is my review of DTC’s production of SWEAT.

It’s the year 2000 in the steel town of Reading, Pennsylvania, and all best friends Tracey and Cynthia need are their steady factory jobs, their favorite bar, and each other. But as years pass and a recession hits, hard times at the factory threaten their livelihoods and test the limits of their friendship.

Bars are a unique environment where connections can thrive, but the loose nature of drinking can lead to extreme conflict.  TV and films have highlighted the importance of these gathering holes to the communities they are apart of.  Whether it’s the Bull & Finch Pub that inspired the iconic CHEER’s Bar or Moe’s Bar in the Simpsons the place of drinking is important.  Lynn Nottage’s Tony nominated play holds the majority of its scenes in and around SWEAT’s neighborhood bar.  This lively location is the haven and hell for each and every one of our talented actors.  Director Tim Bond and Set Designer William Bloodgood’s open space of the bar allows for the audience to be fully connected.  Another unique element to the production was the usage of light/video projection onto the walls of the bar/jail set.  The projections were a modern take on Lynn Nottage’s famous date and brief breakdowns that began each new section of her play.  Dates and time are important to follow as the play does dive back and forth from 2000 to 2008.  Even though the projections, time frames and location of Reading may seem limited in scope to the audience, Nottage’s work transcends.  Her overall take on impact of big business and government actions fully changing the lives of everyday people is fully reflective in our current society.  Thus this play holds a wonderful ability to be relevant and timeless while being so immersed into the brief actions of these people in this bar.

Speaking of people, our cast is led by 3 Diane and Hal Brierley Resident Acting Company members with Sally Nystuen Vahle (Tracey), Liz Mikel (Cynthia) & Christopher Llewyn Ramirez (Oscar) holding a bulk of the on set time.  Dallas known actors Ace Anderson (Chris), Kyle Igneczi (Jason)  and Tyrees Allen (Evan) help balance the other DTC recognizable faces of the cast.   Kenajuan Bentley (Brucie), Jon Shaver (Stan) & Barbra Wengerd (Jessie) are all making their DTC debuts and each of them swoops in to solidify this stellar cast.  Liz and Sally as our leads Tracey and Cynthia show the amazing levels of separation that occurs in the play as the decades long friends end up becoming hateful combatants whose sons (Jason and Chris) violently shatter the world in which these characters live.  Racism, economic difference and sexism all are fully tackled in Nottage’s hard-hitting dialogue.  Ramirez’s Oscar and Bentley’s Brucie hold a real power as each becomes the outsider or hated member of the cast with their real choices.  Oscar simply wants a better job and Brucie simply wants to work but their lives are forever impacted by the people around them.  Shaver’s and Wengerd’s characters I think are the two most universal figures in their journeys.  They are also impacted by the overall story but in ways which seem at first on the peripheral side of the production.  But their lives are the most haunting as they have lost so much without any fault of their own.  The son’s Jason and Chris are the only characters that interact with Allen’s Evan, a police detective.  They are the most visible element of the sides of hatred clashing together and it’s their separation that seems so reflective of our current times.  The vast changes of our cast from the play’s two acts are tremendous.  The power of this work is how much change we witness in a 2 and half hours worth of this production.

Dallas Theater Center’s ability to showcase diversity allows for us to witness bold and innovative productions like SWEAT.  A great start to 2019 by making us realize all that has grown from the beginning of our century and all that remains hauntingly the same.  Society is always on an ebb or a flow, but it’s hard to decipher how much we’ve truly grown from the previous issues of the 20th century.  Technology forever thrust us out of the old world into this new global civilization and yet as people we are still separated by the simplicity of our race, sex or even the type of drink you order at your local bar.

DTC’s SWEAT runs through February 10th at the KALITA HUMPHREYS THEATER.

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